Jews began their eight-day-long festival of lights, called Hanukkah or Chanukah, on the evening of December 7.
At the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Kalaghoda, the focal center of Jewish cultural and religious festivities in Mumbai, the community lighted lamps. Jewish homes also displayed lighted Hanukiah, a candelabra with nine flames.
Synagogue & Jewish Homes Light Up
At the Shaar Hashamaim or Gate of Heaven Synagogue in Thane, which has one of the largest populations of Jews in India, the daily religious service at 7.30 am comprises the ceremonial removal of the Torah, the holy book, from the ark, the chamber holding the scroll, and a reading a verse from the book about dedicating the light. The Hanukkah menorah is the symbol of light.
Mozelle Jacob, 96, recites blessings over the first Hannukah light at her Vikhroli residence. | Manoj Ramakrishnan
Synagogues across the world follow this ritual, said Ezra Moses of the Thane synagogue which will also be observing its 144th anniversary on December 10. “Since it is a working day, we expect 25 to 30 people every morning,” said Moses.
Hanukkah specials in Jewish homes
Evenings at Jewish homes will feature a special meal of deep-fried wheat donuts that is eaten with jam or jelly, said Solomon Sopher, a resident of Warden Road and the president of the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue which dates back to AD 1884.
Elijah Jacob, a Vikhroli resident and a member of the Jewish Religious Union, a progressive movement in the community, said that potato fritters are made at his home. “We also do sweets. In the West donuts are the main food item,” said Jacob who earlier worked with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee which supported the Jewish Community Centre in the city.
Ziv Yuval Ezra Moses Lighting the First Hannukha Candle | Manoj Ramakrishnan
History behind celebration & other customs
The festival’s association with lamps and food fried in oil is derived from an incident in Jewish history when the community rededicated Jerusalem’s Second Temple after taking it back from the Romans in 139 BCE. As the community celebrated the taking back of the Jewish temple, they had olive oil to light the lamp for just one night. The oil eventually lasted eight nights.
To commemorate the miracle, Jews light the special Hanukkah menorahs for eight nights. “On the first night, we light the main flame and use that to light the second. The next day we light the second flame and so on until we have nine flames on the eighth day,” said Sopher.